My Meeting with Colin Powell

On Sunday, October 19th I had a meeting with Colin Powell.  The event was one that had been on our calendars for several months and one that I was personally looking forward to as General Powell was going to share his insights on leadership and project management with me.  The fact that 4,000 other Project Managers and leaders were in the room was beside the point – he was the keynote speaker at the 2008 North American PMI Global Congress.


General Powell’s presentation was absolutely amazing.  He had a very down-to-earth style that was engaging and entertaining, but he spoke with authority and gravity on topics from world politics to (my favorites) project management and leadership.

Below, in no particular order nor coherent gathering are my notes from his presentation.  The quotes are as exact as I can make them.  I hope you find them as inspiring and empowering as I did.


  • What I really wanted to say this morning (referring to his announcement of support for Barack Obama) is that every American should study the issues, study the candidates, study their conscious, make up their own mind, and then GO VOTE!
  • Education is one of the most important political forces in the world today.
  • What do I miss about being Secretary of State?  I miss having my own 757!  (said with comedic sadness over having to use commercial air travel)
  • The greatest strength we have (America), our greatest power, is our openness.
  • Leadership doesn’t change from 40 troops to 3 million, from private sector to non-profits, the purpose of a leader is to put your followers in the best position for success.
  • Followers need to believe in something, a mission, a goal, and get behind the leader’s passion and enthusiasm. 
  • Be the example of leadership in your organization.  Treat everyone with respect.  The janitor is not just a janitor, he is a key part of your organization and it’s image!
  • Take care of your troops.  Be a person of selfless service.
  • Don’t just motivate your followers (a one time activity), inspire them (so that they are self motivating).
  • Inspiring people implies rewards, but they need not be purely financial (raises and promotions) – recognition, kind words, and hand written notes of gratitude will go a long way.
  • Match your intensity to the task at hand.  Never look tired, afraid, or spent.
  • Make sure everyone knows what’s expected and what role they play on the team.
  • You know you’re a good leader when your people follow you if only out of curiosity!  (People will follow you because they trust you, even when the path you are taking looks impossible to them.)
  • There are 4 major political forces at work in the world today:
    1. Economy – the creation of wealth
    2. Energy – which fuels the growing economies
    3. Ecology – we must grow the economies in an environmentally responsible way
    4. Education – “The US had better get serious about this!”
  • Great leaders face reality, they don’t hide from it.  (Face up to tough decisions and conversations.  Don’t be afraid to cut weak team members or to abort failing plans.)
  • Be a situational leader – understand your team, build upon their strengths and help them with their weaknesses. 
  • When someone can’t pull their weight you have to manage them out, if you can’t then you’re not a leader.  The troops are waiting for you (they know dead wood when they see it, they expect you to fix it).
  • Leadership is born but it can be improved through training.


I can’t even begin to touch the stories he told, the humor he brought to the presentation (including doing impressions of Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Prime Minster of Japan), nor the self deprecating quality he displayed.  If you ever have the opportunity to hear General Powell speak, do make every effort to see him, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a link to PMI’s report on Colin Powell’s keynote address.
Also check out these blog entries:
Powell’s Impression – by Brantlee Underhill
Colin Powell At Congress – by Kelley Hunsberger

I echo the comments of “Zabin” on that 2nd blog posting:

General Colin Powell’s keynote address set the tone of excitement, passion and inspiration for the rest of my experience at the 2008 PMI Global Congress. He was engaging, articulate, genuine, passionate, down-to-earth and awe inspiring. He gave you the feeling like you were having a conversation with a close friend. Sharing his wisdom and life lessons in a way that, I believe, touched each person in that room. Thank you General Powell…thank you PMI!

~ by brianherman on October 26, 2008.

4 Responses to “My Meeting with Colin Powell”

  1. wow. very cool. thanks for this post!

  2. Be the example of leadership in your organization. Treat everyone with respect. The janitor is not just a janitor, he is a key part of your organization and its image!

    I totally agree with this. It’s amazing how many people in work treat the WR staff, cleaners, receptionists etc with a level of disdain. They’re all people and they all do important work.

    Overall, it sounds like a fascinating speech to have attended. Interesting guy who’s really done the things he talked about.

  3. Does anyone know if Colin Powell is envolved in any specific projects at this time. my son is doing a report on him and we need to know if he is working on any one thing right now with passion.

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